Pronunciation of tomato

Rick Johnson   Fri Mar 31, 2006 8:19 pm GMT
Here's something I found interesting. I was just reading H L Mencken's "The American Language" (1921), in it he relates the story of an Englishman in America and his distress at the pronunciation "tomahto".

<<Its intrusion into tomato has been vigorously denounced by an Englishman, Evacustes A. Phipson. “It is really distressing,” he says, “to a cultivated Briton visiting America to find people there who … follow what they suppose to be the latest London mannerism, regardless of accuracy. Thus we find one literary editress advocating the pedantic British pronunciation tomahto in lieu of the good English tomato, rhyming with potato, saying it sounds so much more `refined.’ I do not know whether she would be of the same opinion if she heard one of our costermongers bawling out: `’Ere’s yer foine termarters, lydy, hownly tuppence a pahnd.’>>

I had assumed that the pronunciation "tomahto" was used widely in Britain at this time. It would seem, from this story, that many still said tomAto at the time of World War I.
Brennus   Fri Mar 31, 2006 11:56 pm GMT
One of my grandfathers (died 1952) pronounced 'tomato' as toh-mah-toh and insisted that that was the way it was pronounced, even though he was a native of Pennsylvania and a second generation Irish Catholic.

Most Americans pronounce the word as "t'may-toh". However in the Baltimore-Washington D.C. area there is the quaint pronunciation "t'may-tuh" along with words like "p'tay-tuh (potato) marsh-mell-uh (marshmellow) yell-uh (yellow) and fell-uh (fellow)." I was born in that area but did not grow up there. Otherwise, I would be pronouncing these words that way even today.
Uriel   Sat Apr 01, 2006 12:47 pm GMT
No, no Brennus, most Ameicans say t'may-doh, not t'may-toh!
Brennus   Sun Apr 02, 2006 1:05 am GMT
Uriel,

Careful. You might be "spliting hairs" or "dancing on the head of a pin" here. Below is what Dictionary.com says. The first pronunciation is British, the second American.

http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=tomato

At best, I think t'may-doh is a regional or emerging pronunciation.
Guest   Sun Apr 02, 2006 2:16 am GMT
A flap t is meant by the "d" in "t'may-doh", not a true d. You're better off using IPA or X-SAMPA to split hairs or pin heads.
Uriel   Sun Apr 02, 2006 2:49 pm GMT
I don't think I've ever heard any American say the second T in tomato as a full T. Well, maybe Kelsey Grammer, because he does tend to overpronounce his T's anyway. ;)
Uriel   Sun Apr 02, 2006 2:50 pm GMT
But I think we tend to THINK we're saying it as T when really we're not, simply because that's how we're visualizing it, even as we flap away.
Lazar   Sun Apr 02, 2006 4:50 pm GMT
<<At best, I think t'may-doh is a regional or emerging pronunciation.>>

No it isn't. "T'may-doh" (assuming that by that d you're trying to convey an alveolar flap: [t_h@"meI4oU]) is the standard, and near universal, American pronunciation. Try saying "better", "latter", and "at all" and ask yourself if you would really pronounce those as true t's.
american nic   Sun Apr 02, 2006 7:28 pm GMT
I would agree that "t'may-doh" is probably the standard American pronunciation of the word.
Brennus   Tue Apr 04, 2006 7:37 am GMT
Folks, don't be stupid about it. None of the dictionaries lists "t'may-doh" as standard American pronunciation, not Dictionary.com, not MSN encarta, not Webster's...You name it!
Guest   Tue Apr 04, 2006 7:45 am GMT
Brennus wrote-"Most Americans pronounce the word as "t'may-toh"."

Nor do they list your "t'may-toh". You name it, twit!
Kirk   Tue Apr 04, 2006 7:52 am GMT
<<Folks, don't be stupid about it.>>

Implying that others are "being stupid" about something is not appropriate forum behavior nor should the reasonable people who post here tolerate it. How can this forum edge towards the path of civility when even a moderator resorts to unnecessary words? I wish I could say I expected better.

Unacceptable.

<<None of the dictionaries lists "t'may-doh" as standard American pronunciation, not Dictionary.com, not MSN encarta, not Webster's...You name it!>>

Dictionaries typically do not list phonetic pronunciations, but phonemically underlying pronunciations, and a phonological rule states that underlying /t/ in North American English goes to a voiced tap/flap in such positions. It's not a [d], but a voiced alveolar tap/flap. In IPA this is [ɾ] and in X-SAMPA it's [4].

Uriel, Lazar and american nic are right in pointing out the almost universal pronunciation of the word "tomato" in North American English is with the voiced [ɾ]/[4].

<<At best, I think t'may-doh is a regional or emerging pronunciation>>

Seeing as the /t/ -> [4] rule emerged in the 19th century (and maybe a bit earlier) that can't be true. "Tomato" with the voiced alveolar sound is how North American English speakers say it.
Uriel   Tue Apr 04, 2006 1:54 pm GMT
Yeah. What he said!

Brennus, how long have you lived here and not noticed that Americans don't give the full weight to at least half of their T's? It may not be the defining aspect of the accent, but it's one of the big ones!
Kirk   Wed Apr 05, 2006 11:36 pm GMT
<<Yeah. What he said!

Brennus, how long have you lived here and not noticed that Americans don't give the full weight to at least half of their T's? It may not be the defining aspect of the accent, but it's one of the big ones!>>

Yes, all English dialects have different ways of treating /t/ in various positions, and the voiced [4] is an allophone for certain positions of /t/ for some of those varieties. "Tomato" is a good example of this, as it has two underlying /t/s but only one fits the /t/ -> [4] rule for North American English. The first one gets aspiration, as is exected in most Germanic languages. Thus, we have the underlying form /t@meItoU/ which in phonetic form becomes [t_h@"meI4oU].
Guest   Wed Apr 05, 2006 11:48 pm GMT
>>The first one gets aspiration, as is exected in most Germanic languages.<<

And probably just about every European language.